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How a perfect score in pipeline safety can help keep you safe

Oct. 28, 2019

When you go about your daily life, you probably don’t think about the nearly 69,000 miles of pipeline under our feet here in Minnesota. Sure, some of them bring gas to your stove, ensure your home is heated and your car is fueled up, but that’s about as interesting as those thousands of miles of pipeline get for the general public. And that’s OK. Because the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Pipeline Safety (MNOPS) is very interested, and their interest keeps you safe.

MNOPS regulates natural gas, propane and hazardous liquid pipeline operators in our state, and they’re not just going through the motions. They conduct pipeline inspections all over the state, making sure all that pipeline is kept up, running, and safe. They also continually review the work they do to make improvements.

In fact, their funding depends on it. For two weeks each year, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) conducts an audit of MNOPS’s internal policy and records, as well as their inspections in the field. And the only way pass the audit successfully is to aim each day to do quality work according to federal procedures and guidelines. There are, in fact, dozens of important guidelines that a pipeline inspector has to follow for every inspection.

PHMSA recently finished its annual federal audit of MNOPS, during which auditors reviewed internal processes, procedures, training records and inspection records. They also traveled to observe MNOPS conducting inspections in various areas of the state.

And there’s more at stake than public safety. If the audit were to uncover any issues or noncompliance with federal guidelines, MNOPS would have to either make changes in the way they run their pipeline safety program or risk losing some of their funding. So it takes the focus of the entire MNOPS staff, careful preparation, and year-round work to make sure they’re doing their jobs correctly.

You may be wondering how MNOPS did on this year’s audit. We’re happy to say the office scored 100 percent on its annual audit, ensuring the maximum levels of funding are available for the calendar year. You could call it a virtuous cycle: Better safety leads to more funding, and more funding leads to better safety. And MNOPS plans to keep it up.